Thursday, April 28, 2016

In Defense of Mary Sue

Lovers of comics, sci-fi, and fantasy are all familiar with Mary Sue.  Well, at least they're familiar with her name...

But if you're not, here's a quick recap:  Mary Sue is the central character in Paula Smith's comedic ultra-short story "A Trekkie's Tale" originally published in Menagerie #2.  It's only a few paragraphs long (shorter than this entire blog entry) and it focuses on fifteen-year-old Mary Sue, a Starfleet cadet, perfect in every way.  In the story, Marry Sue is stationed on the Enterprise, immediately propositioned by Kirk, and after refusing, earns his respect.  After that, she is given command of the ship, beams down to a planet for an away-mission, saves the away-team, beams back on board, runs the ship, wins awards, gets sick, and eventually dies, surrounded by the Enterprise crew, who mourn her death, and celebrate her birthday as a national holiday for all time.

My recap might makes it sound like this story is longer than it is, but truth be told, I had to gloss over all the plot points because if I used more words, I'd be in danger of exceeding the original story's word count.

So why is something so short so bad for the comic and sci-fi genre?  Well...  It isn't.  Not in and of itself.  I'm fairly sure that Paula Smith had no idea Mary Sue would become the poster-girl for bad characterization.  The piece was originally written as a comedic look at bad fan-fiction, where the author inserts himself/herself in the story as the ultimate hero, as a form of wish fulfillment.

But it makes sense.  If you're going to write yourself into an already fictional world, why not make yourself the star?  These stories aren't meant to be well crafted.  They're meant to be fun, and they offer a fantasy where the writer and reader are the unquestioned heroes, loved by all.

To this day, fans of so many comic and sci-fi franchises have fun writing these kinds of fan-fiction pieces.  We live in a complex world, where life is rarely easy.  What's the harm in taking some time every now and then to escape to a different world where you make all the rules?  If the author is having fun creating their own adventures, and readers are having fun living the adventures with the author, I say let them continue.  And if the popularity of fan-fiction is any indication, they are.  

Okay, enough recap...  If Mary Sue's legacy ended there, I wouldn't be writing about her.  Unfortunately, comic and sci-fi fans turned Mary Sue into a weapon.  Her name became the term to describe any character deemed "too perfect," not just in fan-fiction, but in original fiction, too.  If a reader disliked a particular character, they'd say "Oh, he/she's such a Mary Sue."

It's a derogatory term, and now people use it so frequently, that writers are becoming nervous about writing characters without radical flaws.  If they create a character that is, for the most part, smart, strong, and attractive, the Mary Sue label is easily slapped on by those who dislike the character.  It's a problem because smart, strong, and attractive characters can often be interesting, and due to an author's fear of being called out for writing a "Mary Sue," they are changing their characters in ways that might not work for their story.

What makes a character being called a "Mary Sue" so hurtful to writers is that it goes beyond simply saying that a character is poorly written.  It implies that the character is being used as a proxy for the writer, and that not only is the character uninteresting, it's also the writer  As a writer, all my characters are crafted with specific traits.  None of them are me, but some of them share certain traits.  For the most part, readers won't know what is, or is not, me.

Haters...  Yes, I'm going to use that term...  Haters love calling out characters as a "Mary Sue" because they think that using the term makes them sound like critical thinkers, and that the term offers evidence for their dislike of a character.  It's no longer an opinion.  It's a fact.  The truth is, the character could be perfectly well written, and a particular reader may not care for them.  It's when that opinion is twisted to appear as fact that things go south.  It puts the writer in an uncomfortable position, having to defend their character to a hostile reader, and also explain why it isn't them.  Something that isn't easy to do without getting personal.

Even worse, re-writing characters to be more flawed to avoid being called a "Mary Sue" is limiting creative possibilities.  Most leading comic and sci-fi characters are smart, strong, and attractive.  Superman, the world's oldest superhero, might just be the world's oldest Mary Sue, too.  The wish fulfillment fantasies of two boys from Cleveland.  Going seventy years strong, I think it's hard to argue that Superman has been an unpopular character. 

To summarize, I think readers need to be more selective when using the term "Mary Sue" to describe a character, and writers need to stay true to their original visions, not altering characters to avoid the "Mary Sue" label.  But before I sign off, I thought I would mention that there are times when a character can be a "legitimate Mary Sue."  I'm going to talk about that next week, and how as a writer, you can avoid this...  Until then...

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Future of Superhero Fashion

I think we're on the verge of another big shift in superhero costume design.

For a while, on-screen superhero costumes have been designed to look as close to their comic book counterparts as possible, with bright colors and patterns.  To avoid the total "spandex" look of the 70's, movie costumes often have textured elements that give the costumes a unique and stylish look.

Today, these designs are commonplace, but it wasn't too long ago that people thought designing the costumes to look like they do in the comics wouldn't translate well on screen.  That's why superhero costumes of the 80's and 90's were often made of black leather, molded rubber, and not necessarily designed to look like their comic-book counterparts.

As exciting as current movie superhero costumes are, I think audiences are ready for something new.  It's not a return to flat poly-lycra of the 70's, nor is it time to return to black leather and rubber, but there is something new that hasn't been done.

At least...  Not yet...

Mission Park Street Stories:  Episode 3 - The Future of Superhero Fashion!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Mission Park Street Stories Premieres on Wednesday

The title says it all!  Mission Park Street Stories premieres this Wednesday, at 11:59 PM on Perro Worldwide Comics!

The exciting first episode is the season 1:  Episode 1 Prologue, and details the origins of Team Mission Park and it's super-powered members.  Do not miss this episode!

The most recent episodes of Mission Park Street Stories are available to view on the front page of www.perroworldwide.com.  Episodes are also available for viewing at www.pwctelevision.com, where they are also archived.